I recently had a coworker ask me about some basic tips for writing a grant application to share with a local organization. There is a lot of information out there, but sometimes having a different perspective or different way of explaining something can be helpful. So below are my personal thoughts and tips on how best to write grant applications.
The best way I like to think about starting a grant application is to think of it like applying for a job. The grant guidelines can be seen as the position/role description and the grant as the job application. When you apply for a grant you need to carefully read the entire document and use it as a manual on how to apply for the grant. The grant guidelines are the best source of information for all questions and basically tells you everything you need to know. This document should always be the first thing read, and always have it open when writing the application. If there are still questions that the guidelines can't answer, there is sometimes a Q&A document that can answer some commonly asked questions. If these documents still don't answer all questions there is always a contact person that can be reached either through phone or email for a more specific question.
Connecting to the Funder
Depending on the funding body who is providing the grant, it may be worth giving them a call to discuss the project. Normally a philanthropist, trust or foundation are happy to speak with you and tell you if they think your project is out of the scope of the grant, provide some tips to best answer certain questions and/or explain what information you may need to include to best satisfy the questions. Also, getting in contact can be helpful to just connect with the funder and build a relationship. I have found in some cases making the call and having a discussion has helped and possibly lead to a successful outcome. If you are applying to a government body, it isn't always useful to connect about your project. Sometimes they cannot answer your questions directly and will request the question in writing through an email, which will then get posted on a public forum. But it never hurts to reach out if you do have a question that cannot be answered through the guidelines or other supporting documents.
Beginning to Write the Grant
After reading the guidelines thoroughly, and any other helpful documents provided, it's best to review the entire application so you know what you need before you get started. Sometimes they ask for specific financial information or a Board Member/CEO signature on a declaration that may take a while to get together, so it's always good to have a full review of the application beforehand. It is also common for an application to request reference contacts or reference letters. These can sometimes take a little longer to get back, so it is best to start gathering these together right away and allow time for your contacts to get back to you before the deadline.
Writing a Good Application
I personally don’t think there is any specific trick to being successful or writing the perfect application. But I do think being concise and to the point makes a better application. Funders read hundreds to thousands of grant applications and if they think your response doesn't answer the question or you are just filling space, they can easily put your application to the side. But if you are clear, concise and answer the questions as asked, then you shouldn't have any issues.
Each question needs to be read thoroughly and answered exactly how they request it, without any spelling or grammar mistakes. Having a friend or coworker review the application is helpful to see if you missed anything including spelling or grammar. By rereading an application enough times it is easy to miss something small, so by having someone to reread or take a quick look, is always good practice. Plus, they may catch a sentence that isn't clear, and if it doesn't make sense to them, it won't make sense to the funder. So getting that other perspective to make final changes is very helpful.
Knowing your project or program inside and out while also clearly understanding the benefits and the need is also important. This will help to clearly answer all questions without guessing answers. Evidence to back your project or program such as statistics, case studies or research studies are all good additions and commonly get asked in most grant applications. Sometimes there isn't enough space to include these, but if there is evidence makes a stronger case for project or program. These are also details that are helpful to have on hand in case you are asked for more information after submission. Sometimes a funder can be interested in your project or program, but need a few more details to make a decision. Having some extra evidence or supporting documents on hand is helpful if this happens. When asked for more information you may only get a few days to gather this information together, so it is always good to have extra information on hand.
One major aspect in writing a grant application is having a clear budget. In my experience applying for grants, the budget can easily be incorrect if you don't add line items up accurately or double check your numbers. An incorrect budget can be the reason you are unsuccessful, and may show a funder you don't know what you are talking about. Understanding the cost and adding line items properly is very important and worth asking someone to double check. It is an easy mistake that happens often, so it is best to make sure everything adds up correctly. This includes matching the expenditure of the project to any expected income. Income includes any funds your organization is providing, any funds that have been given by another funder and the grant amount you are asking for. If the application is requesting you to provide income and expenditure, they need to match up exactly, so this is another aspect that will need to be double checked. Lastly, the guidelines will provide any specific details that are needed including if any in kind support being provided or if your organization is expected to contribute to the project or program, so always double check the guidelines on any budget specific requests or information.
Submitting Your Application
There is normally a space in the guidelines informing you how to submit your application. This can be straight forward and provide an email address, or this can have more specific details about how to name your documents. This is important to read before submitting your application in order to make sure you follow all instructions and submit the application correctly. Also, submitting well before the deadline is recommended. One reason is to make sure it gets in securely gets to the funder and there are no technical issues, which has happened to me more then once. The other reason is because sometimes the funding organization will give you a heads up if something isn't right or something was missed, which can still be fixed before the deadline. Sometimes it isn't possible to submit early, I still submit applications right before the deadline and that can mean minutes before the cut off. The most important aspect is just getting it in on time, there is never a chance to submit late, so try and plan ahead and submit early if you can.
Grant Writing Supports
There are many options for support with writing grants if you need it. These can include information on what are the available grants, tips for writing grants or places/people to write an application for you. My favourite in Australia is the Grants Hub, I always think that this website has great tips, friendly staff and are very reasonably priced. They were also the first grant search engine I used when I first began writing grants. There are many options available and someone else might suggest something different, but I have always thought that they were the best for what I needed.
I believe that anyone can write a good grant application and I don't think it is a special task that takes an expensive specialist. I fell into writing grants without previous experience from a completely different career and I have been successfully doing it ever since. Writing a grant just takes time, effort and research, which can be done by anyone if they have the time. I think if you can apply for a job you can easily write a grant application and be successful. Even if you are unsure, it is always worth trying and seeing what happens. You never know what a funder is looking for and if they may think your project or program is interesting. My experience is that if they like the project, person or organization and decide they want to fund them, then the writing isn't as important. So just do your best and give it a try, the worst that can happen is they say no and you can try again. But if you don't have the time, need an external writer and are looking for someone to help, I can also help any organization write, edit or consult on grant, tender or proposal applications. I commonly write freelance and am available if you need some support. Please feel free to reach out through my contact page and I will get back to you as soon as I can.